Kent Levy Court considers changing growth zone in 2018 Comprehensive Plan

DOVER — Kent County’s planning department is currently a flurry of 2018 Comprehensive Plan drafting activity. The department briefed Kent County Levy Court commissioners on the progress of the document at Tuesday night’s committee meeting. The commissioners were pleased with the progress, but hinted at a desire to make changes to the growth zone.

A “growth zone” is a planning tool for designing communities, commercial activity and designating areas to be supported by infrastructure. The county’s current growth zone encompasses part of Smyrna and snakes down Del. 1 and U.S. 13 where it encompasses Cheswold, Dover, Magnolia, Camden, Wyoming, Viola, Felton, Frederica, Milford and Harrington. According to county planning department director Sarah Keifer, the existing growth zone hasn’t seen many alterations in the past decade.

“Even the last time we did this 10 years ago, we looked at expanding the growth zone around Smyrna, but changing the map would force us to rezone proactively within 18 months, and the county has traditionally stayed away from that,” she said. “If the Levy Court wants to examine it, we can look into it though.”

The department is currently targeting mid-October to complete the first draft of the new comp plan — the existing plan is from 2007.

At the meeting, an examination of the growth zone was spurred by County Administrator Michael Petit de Mange’s suggestion. He feels that as the county sits, there doesn’t exist many large swathes of growth zone land available for large-scale development. Any large commercial or industrial job creators who may be wanting to consider the county for a new factory or company headquarters may find it difficult to gain access to the infrastructure they’d need, he said.

A “growth zone” is a planning tool for designing communities, commercial activity and designating areas to be supported by infrastructure. The county’s current growth zone, outlined in black, encompasses part of Smyrna and snakes down Del. 1 and U.S. 13 where it encompasses Cheswold, Dover, Magnolia, Camden, Wyoming, Viola, Felton, Frederica, Milford and Harrington. The areas in purple are industrial areas and the pink areas are zoned highway commercial. (Submitted map)

“The county isn’t well positioned if say, a large employment center were to look at our county as a potential site for a new headquarters,” said Mr. Petit de Mange. “We have very few places where it would make sense, like along the rail corridor, but that’s outside the growth zone. Another section of our code kind of prohibits the county from extending sewer to those places because of their location.”

As an example, Mr. Petit de Mange noted Amazon’s current search for a site to build their new headquarters. The state has indicated that it’s interested in making the company an offer, but it’s not likely to include Kent County land.

“There was talk about Delaware trying to attract Amazon’s new headquarters — well, there probably isn’t a place in Kent County where they could be located right now,” said Mr. Petit de Mange. “I know it presents a possible problem to expand the growth zone in some areas, but I think it’s worth a look in some locations. When we look at the future, this is the comp plan for the next 10 years, we should think about where we could accommodate something of significant size.”

Currently, Amazon is claiming to offer as much as $5 billion in investments and 50,000 jobs to the state it decides to build in. According to a guidance letter posted on Amazon’s website, they’re seeking a downtown campus in a metropolitan area with a population greater than a million people and several universities. They’re also insistent on connectivity to the fastest internet speeds, being 45 minutes distant to an international airport and less than 2 miles from a major highway.

Levy Court Fourth District Commissioner Eric Buckson feels the county should not take the same restrictive stance toward commercial development it has taken in the past with residential growth. He realizes the necessity for controlling the stress and workload on county infrastructure, but thinks economic growth is worth making changes to achieve

“If all of a sudden we begin having problems with massive commercial growth because of an adjustment in the growth zone, I’d be happy to apologize for that,” he said.

Ms. Keifer suggested that the county may be able to achieve the same results with relaxing its ordinance against extending sewer service outside the growth zone to commercial areas rather than expanding the growth zone itself.

The planning department also recommends a county investment in high-speed internet connectivity and fostering of more medium to high density residential rezonings and mixed use projects by creating Village and Town areas through the growth zone overlay.

During the 2018 Comprehensive Plan drafting process, the county has been routinely releasing ‘story maps’ to provide the public with some current regional vital statistics. Since feedback helps further inform the county’s recommendations and drafting process, Ms. Kiefer encourages all county residents to follow along as story maps are released and participate in upcoming 2018 comprehensive plan workshops and public hearings.

Updates will be regularly posted on the department’s Facebook (@KCLCPlanning) and Twitter (@KCPlanning) accounts. Story maps can also be viewed at co.kent.de.us/planning-dept/planning/comprehensive-plan.aspx. To offer feedback directly, Ms. Kiefer says to call the planning department at 302-744-2471. Workshop and hearing dates will be announced and advertised after the completion of the document’s first draft — Ms. Kiefer said they will likely take place in late October and early November.

Reach staff writer Ian Gronau at igronau@newszap.com

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